Monday, June 17, 2024

‘Putin at risk of losing his iron grip on power’

Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing the most serious threat to his hold on power in all the 23 years he’s run the nuclear state, media reports said on Saturday.

And it is staggering to behold the veneer of total control he has maintained all that time – the ultimate selling point of his autocracy – crumble overnight, CNN reported.

The opening salvos of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s disobedience were at times assessed as a feint – a bid by Putin to keep his generals on edge with a loyal henchman as their outspoken critic. But with Putin forced to admit that Rostov-on-Don, his main military hub, is out of his control puts paid to any idea that this was managed by the Kremlin. It is likely however Wagner’s units have planned some of this for a while.

The justification for this rebellion appeared urgent and spontaneous – an apparent air strike on a Wagner camp in the forest, which the Russian Ministry of Defence has denied – appeared hours after a dissection of the rationale behind the war by Prigozhin, CNN reported.

He partially spoke the truth about the war’s disastrous beginnings: Russia was not under threat from NATO attack, and Russians were not being persecuted. The one deceit he maintained was to suggest Russia’s top brass was behind the invasion plan, and not Putin himself. Wagner’s forces have pulled themselves together very fast and moved quickly into Rostov. That’s hard to do spontaneously in one afternoon, CNN reported.

Perhaps Prigozhin dreamt he could push Putin into a change at the top of a ministry of defence the Wagner chief has publicly berated for months. But Putin’s address on Saturday morning has eradicated that prospect.

This is now an existential choice for Russia’s elite – between the president’s faltering regime, and the dark, mercenary Frankenstein it created to do its dirty work, which has turned on its masters, as per CNN.

It is a moment of clarity for Russia’s military too. A few years ago, Prigozhin’s mild critiques would have led to elite special forces in balaclavas walking him away. But now he roams freely, with his sights openly on marching to Moscow.

This is not the first time this spring Moscow has looked weak. The drone attack on the Kremlin in May must have caused the elite around Putin to question how on earth the capital’s defences were so weak. Days later, elite country houses were targeted by yet more Ukrainian drones. Among the Russian rich, Friday’s events will remove any question about whether they should doubt Putin’s grip on power, CNN reported.

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